Today the French go to the polls for the first round of a hotly contested presidential election. Build-up has been scarred by corruption, petty squabbles and a lack of clarity in terms of policies.
It has, however, been quite the spectacle when it comes to langue de bois, a French expression of which the literal English translation is wooden language. It means to talk without saying anything; to use vague and ambiguous rhetoric in order to divert attention from the issue at hand.
Langue de bois is an essential skill in the political sphere, and one France’s presidential candidates have mastered. For all aspiring politicians, here are some great examples I’ve heard in recent weeks; a selection of langue de bois best practices that will stand you in good stead for a career in politics.
“Ça veut dire quoi ? Ça veut dire…” / “What does that mean? It means…”
Avoid talking about how you will address an issue by defining said issue, just in case anybody isn’t sure. “Unemployment – what does that mean? It means thousands of people being out of work…”
“Problèmes de fond” / “Core problems”
Deflect your interlocutor’s point or question by referring back to the “core problems” that need addressing first. “How do you plan to reduce public spending?” “First of all I think it’s important to address the core problems…” When identifying core problems, stick to sweeping statements audiences have heard before, such as “our citizens have lost faith in the current government” and “the people of this country need policies that will make a difference to them”.
“Je suis un homme / une femme politique, je pense à mon pays, je veux des solutions pour mon pays” / “I’m a politician, I think about my country, I want solutions for my country”
When in doubt, re-emphasise your dedication to your country and the fact that you want solutions for your country. There is, of course, no need to clarify those solutions.
“Elire un président, c’est comme élire l’entraineur d’une équipe de foot. Je serai le meilleur entraineur” / “Electing a president is like electing the coach of a football team. I will be the best coach”
Beat around the bush by using a dodgy metaphor. This may or may not be related to sport.
“Elire un président, c’est élire quelqu’un qui va présider pour les cinq années à venir” / “Electing a president means electing somebody who is going to preside for the next five years”
Stuck for a sufficiently dodgy metaphor? Keep it simple and explain what electing a president actually means – just so people are clear on that when they go to the polls. If nothing else, this is a great way of demonstrating that you know the difference between a noun and a verb.